By Jason Lockhart
When you look at the cities of San Francisco and Stockton as isolated entities, you wouldn’t think there would be much of a rivalry. The metro area of San Francisco consists of 7.5 million people, while Stockton’s metro area is less than 700,000. San Francisco landmarks, including the Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman’s Wharf are recognizable to people across the globe, while Stockton is a little known city outside of the state of California.
But despite all of their differences, the two cities, separated by less than 90 miles, have a common bond, ECHL hockey. Their proximity has resulted in a schedule that sees them play a total of 13 times—eight in San Francisco and five in Stockton. This weekend will mark the first two matchups in Stockton—Friday and Sunday—bookending a Saturday game at the Cow Palace at 7:15 pm.
“It’s going to be a great rivalry,” said President/Head Coach Pat Curcio. “Having a team this close creates a great opportunity for fans from each team to visit the opposing rinks. We just hope it stays civil in the crowd. Leave the battles on the ice.”
Their four previous contests—three won by the Bulls—have already created some excitement in the fledgling rivalry, which is expected to intensify. Back on November 9, the division-leading Thunder visited the Cow Palace for the first time. After taking a 1-0 lead, the Thunder surrendered four unanswered goals, giving the host Bulls a 4-1 victory.
Just 15 days later, the Bulls and Thunder faced off again at the Cow Palace. Once again, the Bulls took it to their neighbors to the east. Backed by Dean Ouellet’s hat trick, the first in team history, the Bulls came away with a 6-3 victory.
With three fights in the first two matchups, things heated up for their third test on December 13. A Thursday evening game at the Cow Palace produced some exciting action on both sides. Tied at two heading into the third period, the Thunder pulled ahead twice in the final period of regulation. Andrew Crescenzi, assigned to the Bulls by the Toronto Maple Leafs, sent the game into overtime by tying the game in the final three minutes of regulation. In the overtime period, Peter Sivak sniped one home on the power play for the Bulls’ first-ever overtime victory, 4-3.
Just four nights later, the Bulls and Thunder headed south for a historical night. For just the second time in ECHL history, two teams battled it out at a current NHL venue, meeting at HP Pavilion, home of the San Jose Sharks. While the result wasn’t what the Bulls wanted—a 6-4 loss—the two teams entertained a crowd of 12,881 hockey fans from throughout the Bay Area.
“It was disappointing to lose the game,” said Bulls alternate captain Jordan Morrison,” but it was exciting to be a part of. It was an experience none of us will forget. The crowd was great and we can’t thank them enough for coming out to watch.”
With four games down and another nine to go in the final two and half months of the season, you can expect some fireworks between the two northern California squads. Can the Bulls keep up their early success against the Thunder or will Stockton rebound? We’ll find out soon enough.
The Bulls return home Saturday to take on the Thunder at the Cow Palace at 7:15 pm. The first 2,000 fans, 13 and over, receive an Orange Bulls Hat, courtesy of Seton Medical Center.
Individual tickets are now on sale. Click here to find out more or call 415-469-9843.
About the ECHL
The ECHL began in 1988-89 with five teams in four states. Today, the league has 23 teams in 16 states. The ECHL celebrates its 25th Anniversary in 2012-13 and is the third-longest tenured professional hockey league behind only the National Hockey League and the American Hockey League. The ECHL has had 234 players reach the NHL over the last seven seasons. It’s the primary developmental league for the NHL and the AHL. On opening day of the 2011-12, 83 former ECHL players were on NHL rosters. The ECHL teams are divided into the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference. All teams play a 72-game schedule. For more information please visit http://www.echl.com/